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Color Returns to Visual Studio 11 User Interface

Microsoft hears its developers, and colorizes the monochrome look of Visual Studio 11 beta.

Color is back. Back, that is, in Visual Studio 11.

Microsoft has heard the outcry of its developer community on the monochromatic look of the beta version of Visual Studio 11, released last February, and decided to re-introduce colors for the upcoming release candidate (RC). In a blog entry today, Monty Hammontree wrote that "Since the debut of these changes there's been significant community response and feedback." That feedback, said Hammontree, the director of user experience for Microsoft Developer Tools Division, led to the inclusion of color in most aspects of Visual Studio 11's UI.

Hammontree said that the feedback mostly requested more contrast, differentiation, clarity and "energy" in the UI. The original Visual Studio 11 UI was a sea of various grays, and many developers took an instant dislike to it.

The original idea was that the bland, scheme would help certain features stand out more, and focus attention on more critical items like the code itself. It was originally explained this way:

"In VS 11 we have eliminated the use of color within tools except in cases where color is used for notification or status change purposes. Consequently, the UI within VS 11 now competes far less with the developer's content. Additionally, notifications and status changes now draw user attention much more readily than before."

Whatever Microsoft's original intent, the reality for the developer community ended up being much different. In the comments section for the original Microsoft blog post explaining the new look, one commenter said, "This UI is SO bland and SO dead, I'd be afraid of it putting me to sleep on the job as opposed to reducing distractions." Another said, "While I do like introducing simplicity, I won't be installing this if there is no option to replace these very low contrast lay-outs. And I'm pretty sure other people don't want to upgrade to this either, which will cost you some Metro developers in the long term."

On a Visual Studio user forum, one commenter said, "With the new color scheme in VS 11 Beta, I have to spend too much of my time trying to look for things. It is not at all easy to distinguish content in the toolbars or solution explorer." In the same thread -- one with 460 comments, most of them negative -- another chimed in: "This is not a step forwards, it just feels like another attempt to hop on the Apple UI bandwagon of silver and monochrome everywhere, which simply isn't a productive experience in a complex application."

The message got through to Microsoft, loud and clear. The color additions appear across every part the UI, starting with a lighter gray in the "light" theme and window chrome, to enhance contrast. Another big change is colorizing the Status Bar, from gray to a bold blue.

Another major area of concern for developers was the monochrome look of icons and toolbars, which many said made them too hard to distinguish, given their smallish nature. Those items are now more clearly grouped and differentiated by color.

In all, the changes combine elements from Visual Studio 2010 and the Visual Studio 11 beta. It's cleaner and less cluttered than Visual Studio 2010, but adds back that IDE's use of color for easier identification of elements. The changes, Hammontree wrote, will be included in the Visual Studio 11 RC. He didn't give a release date for the RC.

 

About the Author

Keith Ward is the editor in chief of Visual Studio Magazine.

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Thu, Mar 7, 2013

Epic Fails. Hey Microsoft, I'm staying with Visual Studio 2010 and Windows 7.

Fri, Jan 4, 2013 Low I.Q. Male

One only has to imagine how the person who design this puzzling UI makes love to his wife. Probably fully-dressed, wearing all white pajamas, a barn hat, some boots, on Sunday, in mid-December, in Alaska, but only inodd-numbered years, and if no mooses are within a 30 mile radius. Gross.

Tue, Nov 13, 2012 Yuri

Just innstalled VS 2012. UI is horrible. Can't easily find good old toolbars. May be good for color blinded people. They careless anyway. Uninstalling now. Go back to good old VS 2010.

Sun, Oct 28, 2012 mags

unclear icons, monotone color, NO AERO and they gives us two elections :while or black. It is not possible to have the same interface than vs2010 And the worst, if the interface suffer some slowness (and it happens) then VS2012 ask for "do you want that MS spy you?" a) Yes!. b) Hell no!. b) Not ask me again (it is the same to remember to always yes!)

Sun, Oct 28, 2012 MarkZ

I just installed VS2012. What a visual piece of garbage. Can you please fire the UI designers who force us to pick between lots of monochrome icons and who never asked the community what we thought? And all caps menus? Wtf is going on?

Tue, Oct 23, 2012 Jerome

Maybe they do not know this with Microsoft but there are people who need to work with this application whole day!

Tue, Oct 23, 2012 Willie

Just upgraded tfs/vs to 2012 wiht a lot of problems. First gui impression: It sucks indeed. My eyes burn by searching for black icons in a light gray area... used colors do not have any 3d effects. debug mode the border is awfull dark orange. Who the hell did this job! Fire him!

Mon, Oct 22, 2012 Larry Smith Phoenix, AZ

"It's cleaner and less cluttered than Visual Studio 2010, but adds back that IDE's use of color for easier identification of elements." No, they didn't. Or, if this thing I just installed is an IMPROVEMENT, I can't imagine what it was before. But what it is right now is simply awful without going through painful steps to reverse the terrible design decisions. I doubt I could get away with releasing at app that looked like this. Why should they?

Thu, Sep 27, 2012 Andrew Marshall New Zealand

I work for a large development firm, we have just installed this an we thought there must be some mistake. The color scheme makes it incredibly hard to move around the many differenct parts of visual studio. Really bland and horrible. Its almost harks back to the green screen days of high cotrast screens. What was wrong with the original. Lets concentrate on the important items like getting the functionality right.

Sat, Sep 22, 2012 William Denman Chapel Hill, NC

I just installed VS 11. When I ran it, I thought there had been an install error. This is truly horrible. After I show my wife later for laughs, I will uninstall and stick with 2010. How did this ever get released?

Thu, Sep 13, 2012 Bill Yovino New York

I just installed VS2012 and thought it didn't load properly. The UI is INCREDIBLY HORRIBLE! It's like something out of the '80s. I agree with all of the comments above. I'll continue to use 2010 until this is fixed. Menus in all caps - are you kidding me? Tell me how a development manager puts out garbage like this and keeps his job.

Thu, Sep 13, 2012 Jim B

I looked again at the blog, and the comparison of VS2010, Beta and RC. Yep, VS2010 has both the others beat hands down. ALL CAPS MENUS are ridiculous, the colored icons visible in the clip are far Superior to either Beta or RC, and the addition of Color on stupid things like tabs just to throw us a bone is insulting, not to mention counter to what everyone was asking for.

Fri, Sep 7, 2012 Michael Evenson

So when is Microsoft going to offer the developer base an apology and fix this issue. Come on Microsoft - at least respond and defend your position. What ever your reasons we don't care but we'd at least like to hear them. And please do not regurgitate that tripe about making it more like the Windows 8 UI - we hate that also. It's great for tablets and pads, but developers work in the real world of trying to get some coding done. We are hip enough without your crappy Metro UI.

Tue, Sep 4, 2012 VinceJS Cape Town, South Africa

Its called a Personal Computer because its just that, personal. Colors are a matter of personal taste. I have tried both the Light and Dark themes in VS2012 and don't like either. Would it have been such a big deal for Microsoft to provide a 2010 theme?

Tue, Sep 4, 2012 VinceJS Cape Town, South Africa

Its called a Personal Computer because its just that, personal. Colors are a matter of personal taste. I have tried both the Light and Dark themes in VS2012 and don't like either. Would it have been such a big deal for Microsoft to provide a 2010 theme?

Mon, Sep 3, 2012 jm

THIS REALLY MIGHT BE THE WORST ui I'VE EVER SEEN. ON THE BRIGHT SIDE, I GUESS IT LOWERS THE BAR FOR THE REST OF US. PS, I THINK I'M GOING TO START CODING IN SCREAMING CAP'S 'CAUSE THAT'S HOW I ROLL NOW.

Fri, Aug 31, 2012 Hans Pfaff

I was working with VS 2010 up to now. I just installed VS2012 and I also find that this UI /*REALLY SUCKS*/.The issue is: there is no visible structure that differentiates between toolbars, icons, buttons, title bars etc... I dislike especially the awful blue highlight in the error list and other views. It is the overall appearance that I dislike. VS2010 was MUCH MUCH better in that respect.

Thu, Aug 30, 2012 Rob

Now you have two options: Retro-early 1980's design before Microsoft showed us how to design good interfaces or an IBM 3270 terminal. Both are good examples of what we know to be bad, unproductive user interface designs. Doesn't make any sense - except if it came from the Marketing department who did their research sampling developers who program using iphones from their booths in a local Starbucks.

Tue, Aug 28, 2012

First impression on VS 2012: "WTF: THIS UI SUCKS" !

Thu, Aug 23, 2012 Crispin Wright New Zealand

Keith, You can't leave the UI like this - plain and simple. I've just loaded a solution with 350 projects in it - I can't see the wood for the trees - literally. The UI is unusable. I'll repeat that for emphasis in caps - THE UI IS UNUSABLE.

Tue, Aug 21, 2012 André Lima Rio de Janeiro

There's one good thing about this new VS look: it's so ugly, so booring, so umproductive that its gonna be hated by everyone and wont last long. Like Win Vista.

Tue, Aug 21, 2012 David

To VS UI design team... Your attempts to increase the visual energy with meager mono-tone colour touch-ups are a true failure. Why even attempt edit the VS11 icons when you have a full and acceptable set already at your disposal? Just take the same ones from VS 2010: http://i48.tinypic.com/qnwja1.jpg As eager as I am to embrace the latest technology, for the sake of my productivity and mental sanity I cannot move to VS 11 at this time, because: http://i48.tinypic.com/2lwma6q.jpg

Tue, Aug 21, 2012 David Vancouver

Like Raymond said, I presumed that they'd left the colour out simply because it was a beta and not a final release. I thought it was meant to give incentive to people to pay for the final product instead of using an RC beyond the official release date. VS 2012 as it appears now is simply unusable. Differentiation is needed to work efficiently, and when you're staring at a screen of code all day you need the little bit of visual stimulation the contrast that a coloured interface provides you. Without it, it's simply easier to just feel like a drone. Any child development instructor will emphasize the importance of various outward stimulation on the child's mental development. In adults it's no different. Our brains are already developed, but to keep the gears going efficiently we still require stimulation. VS 2012 fails to cooperate with our jobs' demand for efficient and alert minds.

Tue, Aug 21, 2012 Lino Barreca Italy

UI simply sucks. It's a huge step backward and I'm going to uninstall this crappy version until they provide a full VS2010 theme. It seems I'm using a spartan development tool, no really. What the fuck were they thinking? If you didn't install it yet, DO NOT DO IT. It's wasted time.

Sat, Aug 18, 2012

Don't like it.. plain and simple. Going to hold of buying until Microsoft sees sense.. Very disappointed.

Tue, Aug 14, 2012 James S

Maybe you have to pay extra for colour? I can not see why the appearance of the development tools (VS) should have anything to do with the current trend in the appearance of applications. Does the appearance of a lathe or drill matter when creating a new stylish widget? What is vital with tools is practicality in the development context only; a developer/lathe-operator can create any style the market happens to want; a new consumer style trend does not require a new style of lathe.

Mon, Aug 13, 2012 Deepak

To all the VS developers you will be shocked at the blanch look of VS 2012 if Microsoft doesn't correct its ways. They have made it a hoard of BS!! The little colors are added are nothing. Views - Completely Unusable and Bad. This is dirty politics and marketing by Microsoft which will cost them A LOT!!!

Mon, Jun 25, 2012

This is a terrible interface. Having just installed VS 2012 this afternoon, I find the new gray on gray control surfaces difficult to see. Furthermore, I never realized how much of an impact color had on how I perceived and identified icons until installing this software. Especially in situations where the icons are so small. Overall, the UI is a serious disappointment.

Tue, Jun 5, 2012 hellbinder Boston

Man, if you see where they explain that you get three more lines in rc you get to see the comparison in color from vs 2010, 11 beta and rc. VS2010 colors are still much better!...imho.

Mon, Jun 4, 2012

UI sucks, plain and simple.

Mon, Jun 4, 2012 John B

It still looks like xxxx. Yea there are colors but it's still very undistinguished and very depressing.

Mon, Jun 4, 2012

Seriously now,,, who complained about the UI and color in VS2010? Who?? Anyone? Anybody?? What percentage of devs? You know we're quite familiar with the UI of VS so why change what works? What's up? Oh I know, they just want to push their Metro UI and so probably it has nothing to do with usability. What's the problem with providing an option for the VS2010 UI? Is it that complicated? Geeeez...

Tue, May 22, 2012 LostInSpace

EHB Said: "it's not like there is any shortage of developers at MS to test with."... Three words - "Criticize, get fired." At least MS did the right thing before release.

Wed, May 16, 2012

Does MS know about the concept of making a program skinnable, or even user specific preferences?

Tue, May 15, 2012 EHB

Didn't they do any internal usability testing? I mean, it's not like there is any shortage of developers at MS to test with. One would think that this issue would have been discovered and resolved long before beta.

Fri, May 11, 2012 B

I like the VS2010 colour scheme. Even the RC version looks like a step backwards

Thu, May 10, 2012 Todd Shelton Seattle

Glad to hear. Gray is the new everything.

Thu, May 10, 2012 Brian B

Is it possible to post pics in these articles? Since it's discussing how something looks, it would be nice to see before/after pics. I don't have time to install the betas, but now I'm curious about what they thought was a good idea.

Thu, May 10, 2012 Jim B

They addressed the Color complaints, slightly. But then they removed the standard windows chrome and mad it look industrial. They Fixed a section heading of "LOCAL" and replaced it with "Local", but then the changed ALL MENUS TO UPPER CASE. You will see lots of screaming like that in every review of the latest layout. They can't seem to fix something without really screwing up something that wasn't broken.

Thu, May 10, 2012 Jim P

The new color scheme is a little better than before, but it's still bland overall. BTW, WHY ARE THE MENUS SCREAMING AT ME?

Thu, May 10, 2012 Robert Leahey

Maybe it's the cynic in me but this line worries me: "Those items [toolbar icons] are now more clearly grouped and differentiated by color". What does that mean, exactly? It does *not* say "all toolbar icons are back to normal looking *colorized* toolbar icons"...

Thu, May 10, 2012 Raymond Gentry

Wow. I thought they just left the colors out because it was a beta. I didnt realize they were actually planning to leave it like that. The monochrome really sucked. I thought it was just an incentive for us to purchase the full version as soon as it was released.

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